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Album Review: TBA

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Album Review: The Ocean - Pelagial

Written to be consumed and performed as one singular piece of music, Pelagial is a fascinating concept album that tells a tale of life in the big blue. Songwriter Robin Staps’ plan, to begin at the surface of the ocean and sink the listener steadily through the five pelagic depth zones, could have led to a simplistic 53-minute soundtrack going “glug, glug, glug”. However, unsurprisingly, he has quashed what could have been viewed as a gimmick by fully realising and integrating the notion, with individual tracks able to work both as standalone songs and also as part of the all-encompassing whole. As a consequence, this means drinking in the immensity of the ocean / The Ocean is not a task to be taken on lightly – repeated listens are essential to gauge just how deep this beast goes.

It is not by chance that you can sense the increasing depth, pressure and diminishing light as you progress through the album. “My original plan was to write a stepless musical progression, like a continuous colour blending from white to black”, says Staps, “but I soon realized that it could not be that linear.” The need for soundman Jens Bogren to create 288 separate audio tracks is proof alone of what a complex task this was to try and smoothly patch the entirety together. Consequently, there are plenty of overlapping glugs after all, as well as bubbles, babbles, sloshes and groans and the journey is not a direct path downwards.
 
The rippling wash of the introductory “Epipelagic” is dappled with light; emerging sounds that range from wind chimes to a distant oriental orchestra. A gentle movement into the mesopelagic and a bowed cello for “Into The Uncanny” drops away to finally reveal the waves of electrics. For a while, we swim through this and the bathyalpelagic zones; rocky, hard waters with fist-pumping anthems and catchy riffs. “Impasses” hits hardest with a strong undercurrent of post-metallic crush driving us deeper. Already, Loic Rossetti’s screams are raining down and the jaws are dropping at the manic tapping and rhythmic patterning.

A sudden drop-off into the black-edged death rattle of “Disequillibriated” is the first point where the oppressive crush becomes apparent as The Ocean raise their metal flag and rage without remorse. It is also the marker where the lineal process downwards also becomes fragmented. “Boundless Vasts” offers a fresher wider vantage point which “Signals Of Anxiety” leaps upon as an opportunity to introduce the perception of size and pressure. Our tiny sonic diving bell suddenly seems minute in these immense waters. The layering of the music is impressively thick here in the abyss with the echoing choruses taking the spotlight. There are washed-out melodics and lightness of tone to contend with here and these do contrast, jar even, when placed against a backdrop of bass-loaded bottom-end.

A depth marker further, the hadopelagic, serves as an oddly buoyant build into the finale and feels a little frivolous – these twinkling, disjointed precursors seem anomalous, almost rushed pieces, acting as little more than padding. The final depth gauge markers, demersal and benthic are, as expected, monstrous beasts. “Cognitive Dissonance” is full of sudden hammering, panic-stricken chugging and twin roars that squeeze and squeeze until “The Origin Of Our Wishes” slows heartbeats with a pounding, dissonant doom that claws at bodies; snatching lives. Sound the death knell. Davy Jones’ Locker has taken us.

It is perhaps true that this project could just have easily been flipped on its head and taken the listener on a steady rise to the surface. It certainly would have roused the listener from the off with a hefty opening salvo and also produced an uplifting finale. One would imagine that the band’s proggier side could have flourished a little more overtly than this version’s obvious propensity for overdosing on metallic power. Given time though, it is clear that this shoe fits and The Ocean most definitely stretch themselves to plug the gaps. The ride may not be the smoothest but, undeniably, this Pelagial is still a conceptual masterpiece with genius to be found in both its shifting, beguiling, expansive post-metal wash and in those thick, dark brushstrokes that produce such thunder throughout.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/05/the-ocean-pelagial-metal-blade/
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